Touching this heat sensitive, black book reveals a powerful portrait of a vunerable visually impaired Chinese child on every page
In Like a Pearl in my Hand, I reveal a side of China that is mostly hidden from the outside world. Many parents in China give up their new-born child when they find out that it is visually impaired. This is a consequence of the One-Child policy (formally ‘relaxed’ in 2013, and transformed into a 2 child politics in November 2015) and the loss of face associated with having a child with a disability.
Touched by these children’s fate, I visited different locations of the Bethel orphanage in Beijing, where I photographed children with a visual impairment. The more time I spent with these children, the less I saw their disability.
That is why I wanted to photograph them in their unique way. Just as children, not as victims. This resulted in a series of 40 portraits.
ABOUT ARTWORK IN BOOKFORM
In Like a Pearl in my Hand form and content are brought together in a unique and interactive way; the blind children, their concealment from society and the touch that is needed to see their portraits. The reader experiences what it is like to be without sight and becomes actively involved in the fate of a group of vulnerable children.
The book adds a tangible dimension to the medium of photography – a medium that is predominantly about seeing and being seen.
Like a Pearl in my Hand will be presented as a limited and signed edition book of 250 copies. The book will contain 32 of the 40 portraits as separate pages, all fully coated in black thermochromatic ink. This ink gets transparent when the temperature exceeds 25 degrees Celsius. So when you touch the black page with a warm hand, the underlying portrait of the visually impaired child is revealed.
The book contains texts by Hannes Wallrafen and Bettine Vriesekoop. All texts and additional information are presented in a separate inlay, both in Chinese and English.
The book is contained in a luxurious cassette to complete the body of work.
ABOUT THE INK
Since 2011, I have been doing intensive research into this black thermochromatic ink. The research started from a childhood fascination. When I was younger, I had a mug with an image of a mountain. As soon as you poured hot liquid into this mug, the image of the mountain started to change into an erupting volcano. I was so impressed with this effect that 15 years later, I had to figure out how it worked. I found an ink supplier and did several tests with 37, 31, 27, 25 and 23 degrees Celsius.
For this project, I have choses the ink that gets transparent at 25 degrees Celsius. The reason for this is twofold. Where I live, 20 degrees Celsius is the average indoor and museum temperature, in addition, most hands are not much warmer than 25 degrees Celsius. As a result, the pages of this book will turn grey to completely black below 25 degrees Celsius. When the ink reaches a temperature above 25 degrees Celsius, it will become completely transparent and reveal all portraits – like a normal photo book.
It is important to realise that you cannot control the working of the ink. The book behaves as an organism; it is alive. Over the years the ink becomes less and less transparent. Like it is when you turn slowly blind. What is left in the end is a shadow of the portrait.
In search for the perfect title for my book, I read Ping Fu’s book Bend, not Break. She explains that if something is very delicate and precious – something you should take good care of and protect from danger, like a youngest daughter – the Chinese call it ‘the pearl in my hand’.
Furthermore, in nature a pearl is actually a ‘mistake’, but an extremely beautiful and precious mistake. I believe the title of my book fits the subject perfectly. Although some of us might look at these children as mistakes of nature, like pearls are, they are the most precious beings. We should take good care of them and they deserve to have a voice in society.
Concept & Photography
Carina Hesper 2012 – 2016
Design and layout
Rob van Hoesel & Carina Hesper
Print & lithography
Hofmans, de Allesdrukker.nl
Blanken Controls B.V.
Dutch text editor
Tara Lewis, Siri Driessen, Carina Hesper
Mary Moore (English) Yongshi Chen (Chinese)
Proofreaders and editors
Cees van Dam, Marianne Rijke, Shen Xin, Gea Ardesch, Na Zhang
The Eriskay Connection
Printed in 250 signed copies
First edition of 250
Authorship in Negotiation: Carina Hesper’s 50 Faces by Yuko Fujii
Visual artist Carina Hesper (b. 1983, the Netherlands) arrived in China in the spring of 2012 to participate in the artist-in-residence program at Three Shadows Photography Art Center in Beijing. There, she undertook several photography projects, one of which, entitled 50 Faces, involved photos taken of her rather than by her. Before arriving in Beijing, she was inspired by a Dutch newspaper article about Chinese photo studios’ efforts to photograph ideal headshots. Curious about what “ideal” means to Chinese, Hesper later devised a project for exploring how Chinese conceptions of “ideal” would influence Chinese photo studios’ efforts to photograph her Western face. On the one hand, she assumed that Western faces were an uncommon photographable object for these studios, accustomed, as they were, to photographing East Asian faces. On the other hand, she knew that Caucasian faces often constituted an ideal countenance in contemporary Chinese culture, a fact that might further influence photo-studio employees’ photographic practices in many possible ways.
50 Faces has two distinct stages: photo-studio employees’ creation of digitized photographs and Hesper’s compilation of headshots for publication. The transition from the first stage to the second conjures up one of the critical issues of photography: authorship. Roland Barthes once claimed that “the unity of a text is not in its origin, it is in its destination.” He argued that meaning is generated in the receiver of a work, rather than in the creator’s intentions or the creator’s personality, which were traditionally said to “shine” through the work. In this light, Hesper’s project has multiple destinations, because the state of authorship in the creative process of this project is in a flux.
In the first stage, the destination is Hesper, who acquired headshots from Chinese photo studios. And in this sense, her status as the creator of this project must share space with two other creative factors: others’ authorship (the headshots represent studio employees’ photographic labor) and chance (her selection of photo studios was at least in part unavoidably random). Hesper visited photo studios in Beijing, and requested that they take a business headshot of her. To find the studios, Hesper either walked around or took a bus through the city’s thoroughfares while looking out the window for studios’ street signs. For two and a half months, Hesper had fifty photo studios both take her business headshot as she posed in unvarying attire and digitally manipulate them into what the studios considered an “ideal” business headshot. At each photo studio, Hesper specifically told the employees that she wanted them to take a business headshot of her: she gave no further details. Thus, she effectively relegated to the studio employees the liberty of constructing the images.
As a result, the headshots differ dramatically from one another: some present red eye, and others soft skin; some a chilly plastic face, and others a bright smile. One of the headshots shows her looking slightly upward, her mouth loosely open. It is hard to penetrate, or even speculate on, her state of mind from her vague facial expression. The texture of her skin was not heavily manipulated in this image; however, Hesper’s beauty marks on both sides of her mouth were completely erased. The headshot consequently suggests the full range of arbitrary and chosen actions that the photo studios could take in creating an “ideal” business headshot.
After acquiring fifty headshots (each from a different studio), Hesper turned to the task of interpreting them. Looking at the headshots as an ensemble, Hesper realized that the considerable variability among them reflected the equally considerable variability among Beijing’s digital photo studios. To Hesper’s eye, the Beijing studios did not seem to follow a single set of practices governing how one should take headshots or digitally manipulate them; indeed, the practices she encountered seemed to derive from a more individual bent rather than from institutional principles. Hesper’s findings essentially undid her idea of a Chinese communist society working in unity. As the conception of “ideal” differed in fifty ways among the photo-studio employees at the fifty studios Hesper frequented, so too did the employees’ conception of taking and editing photographs.
In the second stage, Hesper, in collaboration with the graphic designer Feng Yunqian, wove the aforementioned images into a collection for publication. Hesper created this publication primarily so that it would form a single work of art. To Hesper, a critical function of this project has been to present the pronounced variety among the fifty faces; that is, Hesper shifted into the role of an authorial creator. Therefore, the chosen form of publication suits the conceptual underpinnings of this project. The publication consists of a small booklet attached to a poster that can be folded up to envelop the booklet. The booklet features the fifty headshots of Hesper, and the poster presents the fifty images superimposed on one another. The publication’s unique structure effectively hands over the role of ownership to viewers, who can treat the publication as a book, a poster, or a work of art. In addition, each reader encounters different images of Hesper eliciting various reactions and ideas. Thus, the role of interpreter shifts from Hesper to viewers, so that the destination of the photographs’ meanings comes to rest with viewers.
Hesper’s 50 Faces lays bare the structure of authorship in the photographic process. Hesper interpreted the headshots taken by photo-studio employees, and viewers now can freely associate with the publication produced by Hesper. The project is more than just a product of cultural exchange (or collision) between a Dutch visual artist and unknown Chinese photo-studio employees: the project exemplifies negotiation over authorship by presenting the degrees of influence that Hesper exerted over the interpretation of images; indeed, Hesper’s collaborative design of the project, rather than complete the authorial task, confers it on viewers. Hesper’s 50 Faces conceptually, visually, and physically reveals the fascinating dynamism of this negotiation.
Portrait Series No.1 is an interactive portrait that plays with the human gaze and behavior. Related to old oil paintings and to photography, this portrait focus on androgyny, the fine line between masculinity and femininity.
The work questions how we look at art, which usually is patient to be looked at.
This work chooses as its subject characters of androgynous gender. How will the spectator react to the androgynous features of the model?
Will they stare at the portrait?
Will they feel like being watched, or even ashamed?
Portrait Series No.1 engages the viewer - who might stare - by looking back. The work reacts if it is approached, and looks outside its frame - at you.
Portrait Series No.1 is developed at V2_Lab as part of the Summer Sessions 2012
I seem to have gotten out of bed on the wrong this morning. It doesn’t matter. Black coffee helped. Two cups and toast with jam. Didn’t you used to like jam? Or was it honey?
I came here by bike. Sunshine. The pavements were being swept and all the pedestrians were staring dead ahead. A man crossed the street. I watched him for a while.
I keep seeing you. Everywhere. But it’s never really you. They’re too hunched. You’d never walk like that.
Chin just a fraction lower.
I thought about the day I learnt to ride a bike. Were you there? I wasn’t any good at it. It made me nervous, having someone watch. Got used to it though.
A bit to the left.
You look tired, have you been sleeping well? I spent half the night awake. Lost my jacket last night. I’d rather not tell you.
Maybe it’s the trousers some men wear. The shirts. The haircuts. You’re not the only white haired man in a freshly ironed shirt. But you, only you, have my fathers way of looking.
Text by Nina Roos
Still in progress
This series is about photographing scenes in full colour (RGB documents) that look like black and white photographs. In this project I photographed (partly) burned down locations, where the fire devastated all the memories. However the fire also recreated things, like the fire mark from a mattress that created an enormous spatial impression situated on a flat white wall.
I am fascinated by the beauty that appears after the devastation of a fire in which a new environment is created, where the colour and life are situated behind the black and white veil of ash.
TimeCopy is a short experimental dance film.
It was inspired by the children's book Momo, by the German author Michael Ende. The film is about time and the vibe of a mass of people, in this case dancers. In real-time the dancer danced very slowly. It was up to the director to manipulate the speed of the movements, change the dynamics, create the layering and to manipulate the order of the choreography.
The goal was also to look for the boundaries of a computer program. Furthermore the film is about the longing to belong to a group, but also the fear to get lost in it, in other words the fear of losing yourself and giving up your own identity. The vibe of a mass of people is visually shown by layering the same dancer time after time, and giving each dancer an unpersonal look by making silouets of them.
Dolf de Kinkelder
VKPro Bureau, Arnhem
AV werkplaats Artez, Arnhem
Paul Jansen Klomp
Arnoud de Blauw
Anneke A. De Boer